Does Knowledge Diminish Beauty And Awe?

15 Jul

I’m often told that I shouldn’t think so deeply. That understanding something removes its beauty. That thinking about how something works somehow removes the transcendent nature or the magic of an experience.

Someone even told me, when I was talking about the theory of music and understanding more of its attraction and how it affects the brain, that I was cold and soulless! That initially made me upset, though I then realised their loss.

So here’s my favourite way of answering this odd criticism:

The sun is about 93,000,000 miles away from the earth. It is the size of 1,000,000 earths. Its surface temperature is 6,000 degrees, and it is 15,000,000 degrees at its centre. Through spectroscopy, we know that it’s made of 75% hydrogen and 24% helium, and some heavier elements constitute the final 1%. It smashes those hydrogen nuclei together at high-speed to make helium. Each of those collisions results in energy release. E=mc^2 shows that the energy release means that 4,400,000 tons of mass is lost every second to give out 380 thousand trillion terawatts of energy. It takes the light from the sun nearly 9 minutes to reach the earth.

All that information doesn’t stop me enjoying the sun. In fact those awe inspiring numbers increase the beauty of a sun rise. The knowledge of how it works only adds to the feeling; knowing that it’s a massive nuclear fusion reactor that is gently warming me increases the significance of the experience.

Anyone who says that science reduces the awe and beauty of the world has a paucity of imagination that is beyond me.

Besides, as Socrates said: The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing.

Here are Richard Feynman’s thoughts:

Here’s another view of science being awe inspiring:
I’d like to widen people’s awareness of the tremendous time span lying ahead: for our planet, and for life itself. Most educated people are aware that we’re the outcome of nearly 4bn years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise, 6bn years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.”
– Martin Rees

Finally Tim Minchin puts it perfectly in his nine minute beat poem.


One Response to “Does Knowledge Diminish Beauty And Awe?”


  1. An Unfebuckinglievable Review « unfebuckinglievable - December 18, 2012

    […] Does Knowledge Diminish Beauty And Awe? […]

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